Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Like many Americans who have made a pilgrimage to Washington, DC, I too have visited our capital's many war memorials. It is a strange system: Have a war, settle it, and then build something by which to remember it. But before all of this, Americans must decide what, exactly, they intend to build: a trench or a tower?
My father took me to the Vietnam War Memorial when I was a child. As we descended the trench, he unwittingly revisited a few of his own memories from that war. Though never drafted, Vietnam took some of his childhood buddies. And all it took for him to tear up was a few minutes inside this trench. He asked, rhetorically, "All this, for what?"
A decade later I returned to Washington on a college tour and stopped by the new World War II Memorial. The brilliant towers and fountains distinguish it among its marble neighbors on the National Mall. The grandeur of its columns and flags is striking, though the several Japanese tourists snapping photographs is all the more overwhelming.
Visiting this memorial is like visiting a celebration: America threw fascism back to its bastard cage of European Enlightenment--and it felt good. In contrast to the memories of Vietnam's trench, you can feel America's victory.
From my perspective (a 23 year-old student), the United States more-or-less “lost” Vietnam but “won” World War II. But sitting on a park bench last week I couldn’t help but speculate: How will America remember the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will we lingerer in the depths of our trenches or bask atop our magnificent towers?
It's like that concept economists are always throwing around, "collective cost-benefit" or, does the benefits outweigh the costs? Is Iraq and Afghanistan "worth it" to Americans? My father, like so many of his generation is haunted by their memories of Vietnam; regardless of whether we officially "won" or "lost." But ask a European Jew, such as my now-deceased grandfather, and I bet he would have told you. America’s victory in World War II was nothing short of “worth it”--despite its countless horrors. His very life was evidence of America’s victory.
So I wonder, down the road, what our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will say? Decades from now, what will they tell us about their experiences in the Middle East? Are their lives haunted by failure--or celebrated with victory? There is always horror in any war, but again, was it worth it?
It’s hard to tell what the future will hold with regard to today’s conflicts. But look at this past year of president Bush’s diplomatic missions abroad, Germany, Japan and even Vietnam have all been “successful trips” with increasingly “good relations.” In these cases, a generation or two was all it took to mend these conflict's of the past—it almost leads one to question the very reason for fighting in the first place.
I am about to conclude my third trip to our nation's capital. Before I left California, I took in one last baseball game, where I watched a newly signed Japanese pitcher throw a near-perfect game for the Los Angeles Dodgers. My father and I stuck around for the post-game interview. After all, it was a near-perfect game.
To our surprise, neither of us could identify a third man standing between the interviewer and interviewee on the podium behind the microphone. "Who is that third guy?" I wondered aloud; my Dad was just as confused.
After a few minutes we both had it figured out: It was the interpreter provided for the pitcher. Sure he can pitch a near-perfect game, but his English is another story. Though, to be fair, my father and I do not speak more than a few words of Japanese between the two of us. But none of this mattered, at least to us Dodgers fans. The pitcher was a hero that night and any past generational conflict was the last thing on our minds.
Then all of the sudden a current conflict was on mine. I turned to my father, "You think one day my son and I will stick around for the post-game interview with an Iraqi pitcher?" I asked. "Well," he answered without missing a beat, "not in baseball." He had a point.
Americans must specify what it is that must be done to “win” two wars worthy of building towers, if such a possibility still exists. Moreover, Americans should take note of the trenches lining the Washington's National Mall, eternal reminders of the sorrows of warfare and all its accompanying vices.
After all, an election is just around the corner. And we have a question to answer: Generations from now, will we be digging trenches--or erecting towers?
Scribed By Jesse Aizenstat at 9:11 PM